Chandigarh: If there is one incident that Punjab’s political parties want to forget in a hurry, it is the barbaric killing of a Tarn Taran resident at the Singhu border last week.
The victim, Lakhbir Singh, was accused of desecrating the Sarab Loh Granth (a sacred text of the Nihang Sikhs, distinct from the Guru Granth Sahib) and was killed allegedly by a group of Nihang Sikhs.
The barbarity and boldness of the act has shocked the nation but Punjab’s political parties have barely reacted to the incident. Caught in the tricky dilemma of condemning the horrific killing of a Dalit by the Nihangs and the religious sensitivity of the sacrilege of a Sikh sacred text, a majority of leaders have chosen to remain silent.
Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has not uttered a word about the killing. He is Punjab’s first Dalit Sikh CM and even after it surfaced that the victim was a Dalit, he has not reacted.
The only statement about the incident came from Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa who demanded a probe by a sitting judge to find out the actual causes of the incident.
“This is very sensitive issue, which is related to the religious beliefs of the people and on the other hand associated with the farmers who had been peacefully protesting from almost a year against the draconian farm laws of centre government,” he said in an official statement.
He added that “at this crucial juncture, it is very important to identify anti-social elements inciting religious sentiments and defaming the farmers agitation as these kind of desperate attempts aimed to sabotage this peaceful and well-disciplined agitation were already being made by some disgruntled elements”.
No other Congress leader, including state party chief Navjot Singh Sidhu, has said anything on the issue.
The Akali Dal condemned the “entire sequence of events” at the Singhu border, including both the sacrilege and the killing.
“The entire sequence of events at #SinghuBorder this morning is highly unfortunate & condemnable. @Akali_Dal_ demands a thorough probe into the brutal murder of the youth as well as into the instance of sacrilege of a holy Sikh scripture,” Party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal had tweeted Friday.
The entire sequence of events at #SinghuBorder this morning is highly unfortunate & condemnable. @Akali_Dal_ demands a thorough probe into the brutal murder of the youth as well as into the instance of sacrilege of a holy Sikh scripture. pic.twitter.com/eQLOzmhZqt
— Sukhbir Singh Badal (@officeofssbadal) October 15, 2021
The Aam Aadmi Party, headed by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, has maintained a strict silence on the episode. The state leadership, under Bhagwant Mann, too has not issued a statement. Even leader of opposition Harpal Singh Cheema, who holds a press conference almost daily on various issues, is quiet.
“It is right that despite the grimness of the incident, it hasn’t created a furore in Punjab politics. That is because Punjab has already entered the electoral phase and every statement a politician makes at this stage counts towards his election prospects,” said Prof. Jatinder Singh of the department of Political Science, Punjabi University, Patiala.
“In this case what will they say? If they speak against the Nihangs condemning what they did, they undermine the significance of the sacrilege. If they justify the killing, they are justifying a murder. They are stuck between the devil and the deep sea.”
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The sacrilege issue
Sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib (considered to be a living Guru by the Sikhs) or other sacred texts is a very touchy issue in Punjab politics. A series of incidents of desecration of Guru Granth Sahib in 2015 led to the chastening defeat of the then Akali-BJP government in the assembly elections of 2017. The matter continues to rage on as a major issue ahead of the elections next year as well.
“Politicians are very comfortable talking about safer topics in which it is easy to take sides. They have all spoken up about the extension of the BSF’s jurisdiction in Punjab. They are also united in commenting against Taliban’s forcible entry into a Gurdwara in Kabul. But not on the Singhu border episode,” said Prof. Jatinder Singh.
The jathedar of the Akal Takht (highest temporal body of the Sikhs), Giani Harpreet Singh, too demanded a probe into the incident adding that it should not be seen merely as a “law and order problem” but was much more than that.
In a statement issued Sunday, he said the incident was symptomatic of the failure of the Indian justice system. He said that almost 400 incidents of sacrilege had taken place in the past five six years and yet the state had not been able to give “exemplary punishment” to even one accused.
Bibi Jagir Kaur, the president of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), the body that controls various Sikh shrines, too termed the Singhu border incident an attempt to “defame” the farmer’s agitation while demanding a probe.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
Also read: Who are Nihang Sikhs? Sect accused of Sikh man’s ‘sacrilege’ lynching at Singhu